The Criterion set also includes excerpts from his series of films Hapax Legomena and his epic unfinished Magellan Cycle. From the former series comes “(nostalgia)," which along with “Zorns Lemma” is one of Frampton’s best known films. It’s a simple set up. The film begins with a black screen as fellow avant-garde filmmaker Michael Snow reads Frampton’s narration about an unseen photograph. Snow proceeds to talk about a subsequent image, while the image he’d previously spoke of slowly burns to ash atop an oven’s radiating heat coils. This continues until Snow speaks of what is supposed to be a terrifying image - which we never see. Frampton’s drollest punch line, if you can call an image at the end of a 32-minute silent film a punch line, comes at the end of “Poetic justice,” in which a static camera is held on a coffee table while 240 pages from a film script appear one by one. It’s a lot funnier, and more surreal than it sounds.
Frampton’s final and most ambitious project was The Magellan Cycle, which he intended to encompass all of human experience in a projected thirty-six hour film cycle. He died before he could complete the project, but its unfinished nature is of a piece with an aesthetic that appreciates failure more than success. Frampton celebrated the failures not only of conventional narrative but of the cinematic medium itself, incorporating emulsion scratches, camera hiss and other flaws inherent to filmmaking. But this does not make his work seem like failed art. Rather, it inspires the viewer to work out their own solutions to the cinematic equations Frampton proposes.
Bonus features include an interview and lecture with Frampton in which his pretenses come off stronger than his wit. But as the opening quote indicates he still says plenty of interest. Also featured is a gallery of images from his Xerox project “By any other Name,” which finds a strange symbolism in the ordinary world of product labels. Some artist smay find beauty in the ordinary. Hollis Frampton’s finds a challenges in it, and challenges the viewer to reconsider ordinary concepts of image and sequence.